Ruchi Ram Sahni 150th Birth Anniversary Year Celebrations Inaugural Function, Panjab University Chandigarh 5 April 2013: Introductory Remarks

Rajesh Kochhar

Co-Convener  Panjab University Ruchi Ram Sahni 150th Birth Anniversary Celebrations  Committee

Distinguished Guests, Friends!

I would like to make a couple of quick points. First, why is Ruchi Ram Sahni not better known? One obvious reason is sharp discontinuity introduced by the Partition.  But I think the real reason is more fundamental. Ruchi Ram was a singularity. He did not fit into an existing pattern. There was no pre-history leading up to him nor were there lasting developments emanating from him.

Lahore stood in sharp contrast to Calcutta and Bombay. In Bengal, a sustained public campaign had prepared bright young men to opt for a career in science. PC Ray was trained in Britain on a government scholarship. Presidency College was equipped with a laboratory that would have ranked with the best in the world in its time. He was able to establish an international reputation for himself as also a school which spread the culture of chemistry throughout the country. For example, Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar’s chemistry professor in Lahore was a student of PC Ray. Unlike Ray, Ruchi Ram did not have facilities to train young people and establish a school around himself.

Bombay was not interested in theoretical chemistry. But it greatly valued industrial development.  TK Gajjar who taught in a College was able to get industrial chemistry inducted into the University system. He himself directed a laboratory where he trained chemists to become entrepreneurs. Remarkably, his private lab was recognized by the Bombay University. To Gajjar goes the credit for  the introduction of synthetic dyes into textile industry.

A comparison of the cultures of the colonial Calcutta, Bombay and Lahore would be a very rewarding historical exercise indeed.

Ruchi Ram was a remarkable and multi-faceted personality. He refused to put up with racism and colonial arrogance. As a meteorologist, he, on his own responsibility, predicted a severe cyclone in the Bay of Bengal; explained to the Lahore High Court ( then known as Chief Court) when a Hindu would cease to be one; and did not hesitate to take even street action to save The Tribune from falling into the wrong hands.

But, is Ruchi Ram relevant today? The answer is yes. It is a sad thing to say, but in matters relating to science, we have retrograded to where we were 120 years ago. Ruchi Ram was a firm believer in the generation of wealth through science. He himself set up a profitable workshop for making instruments and a sulphuric acid plant. He also made money by dabbling in real estate. This is probably his only activity that would appeal to his successors today.

Ruchi Ram advocated employment-oriented technical education; strove for science teaching in the mother tongue; and emphasized the importance of practical training in school and college science education. If we look at today’s unhealthy emphasis on the services sector; total neglect of school education under government auspices; and the emergence of CET-driven devalued science teaching, we realize that Ruchi Ram is probably more relevant today that he was in his own time.

Thank you.

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